More Coronavirus Reports from Our Guides in Europe

Our Europe-based tour guides just can’t stop guiding. Even stuck at home in coronavirus self-isolation, they continue to reach out, teach, and make the world a better place. Since last week’s roundup, as quarantine slowly became the “new normal,” more of the reports are about how our guides are settling in for the long term: Keeping distracted; making up for lost income; and getting equipped for the crisis.

Here are a few of the updates we’ve received this week from our guides around Europe. (We’re hoping to make this a weekly Friday tradition throughout the crisis.)

Several guides are setting up international video chat sessions, some are recording their tour guide spiels for each other, and others are even doing yoga classes and cooking classes online. For example, Anna Piperato (in Siena, Italy) is teaching about saints:

Medical equipment shortages are happening around the world. From her family’s country home near Prague, Jana Hronková filmed this video of her family making their own protective masks for visits to the supermarket.

Jana also notes that she’s very busy homeschooling her kids. The Czechs — with their typically sharp sense of humor — already have a joke about this: “If this homeschooling continues for several more weeks, the parents will find a vaccine sooner than the scientists!”

Last week, we heard from Stefan Bozadzhiev in Bulgaria. This week he asked his fellow guides what their governments are doing to support them through this loss of work. Stefan reports: “What’s in Bulgaria? Nothing. We are left on our own. The tourism minister actually said the travel industry is the bad guy and we have to rely on ourselves…”

Responses from other guides share examples of more helpful governments:

“In France, self-employed people can receive €1,500 a month (during confinement, nothing after) if they can prove a loss of 70% compared to same month last year. You can also ask your bank to pause any loans you have.”

“In Ireland, the banks are pausing mortgage payments for three months. Also an emergency payment of €200 per week for 6 weeks if you’ve lost employment. During that 6 weeks you have to apply for employment assistance.”

“Here in Spain, if you are self-employed, you have to pay €220 every month so you can work (called cuota de autónomos). Now if we can prove that our income has decreased because of the virus we will get a reduction in that. That is all.”

“In the UK, there are many measures, including tax and mortgage payment suspension, but most importantly 80% of workers’ wages/salaries will be paid up to £2,500 a month. For self-employed, the number is worked out.”

“Here in Italy, self-employed are eligible for €600 per person per month. But there might not be money available for all (for now). The EU has interrupted the Economic Stability Pact, allowing all EU countries to print and inject money into the system to help. The huge deal in Italy now, on top of the death toll, is that the industrial engine of the country in the North (Milan/Bergamo/Brescia) is 100% down.”

“In Greece, all employed workers that are working for companies that have suspended their operations or have been fired after March 1st; there will be an allowance of €800 for the period of March 15 until April 30th. For the self-employed, the situation is uncertain regarding allowances, but there will be a suspension of their obligations for payments for insurance and pension for a three-month period and also a suspension of the planned increases of the monthly contributions that was supposed to be in effect from March.”

And finally, artist/guide Stacy Gibboni — based in Venice — has been sharing “Red Zone Essays” about life under quarantine. (You can check out her work at Saatchi Art, or on Facebook.)

Here’s a sample:

“Italy is my home. Venetians are my people. This island stole a part of my soul decades ago. I feel a maternal need to protect her yet I do not know how. I know I am not alone in this. Education, as with most things, seems my best course of action.

“Venice, La Serenissima, has been struggling to find her balance for too many years now. Mass tourism, the cruising industry, ‘do-it-yourself’ hospitality, air pollution, rapidly declining resident numbers within an already elderly population, acqua alta/high waters, corruption, and all the environmental impacts of this lengthy list…

“Venice has a long history with the concept of quarantine. As a maritime republic, islands in the lagoon were designated for isolation to travelers coming from afar when warranted. We have half a dozen churches constructed here built to celebrate the end of various plagues. The Salute Church has always been my favorite. In fact, I can’t think of a more beautiful, curious or special place to be in quarantine.

“As the noon bells have passed my neighbor, la Signora, has finished her meal, turned off Sunday Mass, and closed her shutters for siesta. She has done this every day for as long as I have known her. My turntable has gone silent; regardless, Vivaldi always lingers in the air here. A contented rower cuts the water with his oar below, the sun shines, my pre-spring blooming garden has attracted bees and butterfly’s…it is peaceful.

“Let us use this time to reflect. To read, write, paint, play, sing and love.

“Let us use this time to BE.”

Later, Stacy wrote:

“I did it, it is done! My first outing for sustenance. Let’s face it, friends…the outta-wine cupboard was becoming a crisis within a crisis.

“Donned, as promised, in my up-cycled double denim mask and gloves. For the chronicle, my impatience with queuing up is equal to that for telephone conversations and floor washing…ugh. So my approach was to avoid the supermarket and try the traditional Venetian shops, unsure how many would actually be open. Knowing these families are still trying to recover from our dramatic high waters of last fall, I remain committed to supporting them as much as I can.

“Delighted to be greeted by Carlo, my wine guy, as if it was any other day…he paid no mind to my gigantic, hand-sewn mask and instead said habitually, ‘Due franc, cara?’ (my general weekly order of two recycled water bottles filled with regional red table wine). Then he added, ‘Perhaps it’s wiser if you take three today, my dear…’

“‘Si, Signore!’ No need to twist my arm…perhaps you know something I do not, I think to myself.  Our regional restrictions do continue to increase and expand in a constant attempt to reduce this blight’s spread.

“Next stop, the fruit and vegetable stand twenty steps away. I am happy to report the stand was both bountiful and beautiful! My preventative ensemble and general nerves kept me from snapping you a photo…so please now, close your eyes and imagine all the inviting colors of nature’s nourishment on display!

“Magenta-and-white-striped radicchio, dark green chicory varieties piled high, purple-tipped broccoli ending their season, crimson red peppers set alongside plump, fragrant, rosy-red berries. The young man even had a few precious basil plants carrying a scent of nostalgia from better spring days…

“Satisfied with all this freshness, I headed on to Rizzo Pane, a Venetian institution. The line was just one moment as the staff diligently allowed three in at a time. Gently scolding a gentleman when he bounded up looking eagerly for his honey candies: ‘Come back tomorrow, Gianni!’ called out the owner patiently, adding invisibly from behind his partition, ‘I promise to have them then, go on home now…’

“Thankful for this sweets reminder, I ask for the bag of fancy chocolates. ‘No, I’ll take that bigger bag, please!’ This shop usually smells like gourmet temptation of fresh baked bread and sugar wafting into the street. But today those comforting smells are covered by the scent of sanitization.

“Each item carefully calculated with the added comment of, ‘Signora sei nostra Veneziana — Americana, vero?’ (Ma’am you are our Venetian — American, aren’t you?) ‘Ten percent discount for you!’ Her friendly eyes smiled beyond her mask. Grateful for the recognition — must be the cowgirl boots — and thankful for the added generosity.

“I am thankful for the kindness and availability of all those individuals working tirelessly to keep Italy fed and comforted. Adding that bit of personal care reminds me to tell you that Venice is in fact a small town. My precious island community working to survive also this…I hope to see each of them again in about 10-13 days…

“From Venice with love.”

Stay healthy, everybody!